From Comcast SportsNetThe Baltimore Orioles began the week with the best record in the majors, with Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals close behind. Albert Pujols was slumping, Bobby Valentine was getting booed and Derek Jeter was hitting nearly .400.Signs of the season, or mere mirages? A quick look at the big questions so far in baseball:-------- Can the Orioles stay atop the AL East? Cleveland teased fans last spring, Pittsburgh stuck around until summer. Sure looks like a charmed year in Charm City, too, coming off DH Chris Davis' improbable stint on the mound. Buck Showalter has the Birds believing, bolstered by a shutdown bullpen. The O's haven't had a winning season since future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar led them to a division title in 1997 -- let's watch the next two weeks when Texas, Tampa Bay and the Yankees visit Camden Yards. The call: The Orioles fall back a couple spots before the All-Star break.-------- How many home runs will Albert Pujols hit? After ending the longest power drought of his career, the three-time NL MVP was still hitting in the .190s. He's in a new, better league, facing many pitchers he's never seen, playing in a park that's not ultra-homer friendly. His 240 million contract draws a lot of attention, but these are the numbers worth noticing -- 47 homers in 2009, down to 42 in 2010, down to 37 last year with St. Louis. The call: Pujols drops again, and finishes with 33.-------- Will Washington win the NL East? All eyes are on Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals right now. They're fresh, fun and full of rising talent. Plus, they're winning minus injured closer Drew Storen. Manager Davey Johnson provides a steady hand, and the Nats will do OK while Jayson Werth's broken wrist heals. The last time a baseball team from the nation's capital reached the postseason was 1933, when FDR was in office. It might be time for President Barack Obama to begin warming up his left arm. The call: The Nats just miss the playoffs.-------- What will Derek Jeter hit? In recent years, the Captain has become perhaps the most polarizing player in the majors. Really, try to find a single fan who stays anywhere near neutral when talking about the Yankees star. At this point last year, Jeter seemed washed up at the plate and in the field. Since homering for his 3,000th hit right before the All-Star break, he's completely rejuvenated. Manager Joe Girardi is being diligent in giving the 37-year-old shortstop proper rest, and the results appear to be showing. The call: Jeter hits a robust .321.-------- Can Bobby Valentine survive the season? This sure isn't what Bobby V had in mind when he returned to the big leagues. Battered bullpen, banged-up roster, mini-feud with popular Kevin Youkilis and angry crowds at Fenway Park. Many fans in Boston wondered how much worse it could get after last year's collapse. Well, last place isn't looking so great. That said, he won't be the first manager to get chopped in 2012 -- that's much more likely to be Kansas City's Ned Yost. The call: Red Sox management will preach patience, Boston starts playing better and Valentine makes it through the year.-------- How many more no-hitters will there be? Jered Weaver, OK, maybe some could've foreseen that. But Philip Humber's perfect game, no way. Predicting no-hitters is a tricky business. A lot of people claim they're more possible nowadays, with hitters in the post-Steroids Era. Maybe a pair of gems in less than two weeks means more are on the way. Even so, all it takes is a checked-swing blooper to wreck a bid. The call: One more this year, pitched by Matt Cain.-------- What's in the future for Mariano Rivera? The greatest closer of all-time is holding out hope that he'll pitch again this year. Such comebacks from torn ACLs have occurred, although not with 42-year-old ballplayers. If the Yankees reach the playoffs, look for daily stories on how Rivera is close to rejoining them. Mo' likely, a return in 2013. The call: "Enter Sandman" blasts away at Yankee Stadium next season as Rivera, with almost a full year to rest his arm, loses very little off his cutter.-------- Who will win the World Series? Tampa Bay looks sharp with all its pitching, St. Louis has done well as the defending champion and Miami is starting to play well under Ozzie Guillen. And how magical it would be if Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Dodgers captured the crown? The call: There can be just one champion, and that team is Texas. With Yu Darvish on his way to winning 20 games and Josh Hamilton leading a beastly lineup, the Rangers will shake off the disappointment of losing two straight World Series and hammer whichever NL team dares to get in their way.
NEW ORLEANS—Here is what you need to know on this Monday, November 20, three days before the Washington Redskins play the New York Giants on Thanksgiving Day at FedEx Field.
Today’s schedule: Jay Gruden press conference 3 p.m.
—Redskins @ Cowboys Thursday night (11/30) 10
—Redskins @ Chargers (12/10) 20
—Cardinals @ Redskins (12/17) 27
Five key plays in Redskins vs Saints
D.J. Swearinger interception in the first quarter—Although the Redskins didn’t fully capitalize on the takeaway in Saints territory—they got a field goal—the play helped the Redskins jump on top in what would be a back-and-forth first half. Swearinger has three interceptions in the last two games.
Fourth and six pass to Vernon Davis for 26 yards—This was the first of two fourth-down gambles Gruden took. This one was from the New Orleans 39. This one paid off in spades as Kirk Cousins found Davis for a first down at the Saints 13. Three plays later Samaje Perine got in from a yard out. That made it 17-10 and the Redskins would not trail again until, well, you know.
False start when lined up for field goal—Things were going great for the Redskins as they had a nice drive going at the end of the half. The advance stalled and they lined up for a 51-yard field goal try. But there was a false start on the play and the Redskins had to punt. Josh Holsey almost downed it inside the one but he shuffled his feet one too many times and he fielded the ball with his heels on the goal line stripe, resulting in a touchback. That gave the Saints the field position they needed to drive for a field goal as time ran out.
Fourth and one fake punt—The Redskins had just seen Chris Thompson get carted off the field after suffering a broken fibula in his right leg. It was fourth and one at the Washington 15 and they lined up in punt formation. Niles Paul took the direct snap and powered up the middle for five yards. Apparently inspired by the big, uh, courage shown by Jay Gruden on that, the Redskins continued the drive and got into the end zone on a 40-yard pass from Cousins to Ryan Grant. That put the Reskins up 24-13 with 1:44 left in the third.
Third and one Perine for minus-1—I don’t think I need go into much detail here, you know what happened.
Tandler on Twitter
This won't really make you feel better, #Redskins fans. But two league sources say the League contacted Bruce Allen to tell him that Cousins intentional grounding call was incorrect and shouldn't have been a penalty.— Mike Jones (@ByMikeJones) November 20, 2017
So the league can buzz in for all kinds of minutia on the definition of a catch but they can’t do it to say, “Hey, guys, you got the rule wrong.” Great. https://t.co/F01J6APOiA— Rich Tandler (@TandlerNBCS) November 20, 2017
In case you missed it
- Final six minutes were brutal for Skins
- Stop talking about Jay Gruden's job
- 5 takeaways from the Redskins' painful loss in New Orleans
- Cousins explains the intentional grounding mistake
- The Redskins' loss literally defied the odds
- Redskins blow major chance in embarrassing OT loss
- Everyone was devastated by Thompson's leg injury
NEW ORLEANS—The Redskins’ game against the Saints, and perhaps their whole season went from hope to despair in the span of just six minutes.
When Kirk Cousins threw a touchdown pass to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, the Redskins were up by 15 points with 5:58 to play. Some Saints fans departed the Mercedes Benz Superdome, figuring that their team’s seven-game losing streak was about to end.
But Drew Brees and the Saints weren’t going anywhere. The Redskins defense was loose, to say the least, as the Hall of Fame quarterback completed seven of seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. The drive took just 3:05 and it seemed that the Saints barely broke a sweat.
“We gave up too quick a score on the initial one,” said Jay Gruden.
But the Redskins were still in control of the game. After two Samaje Perine runs, the Saints were out of timeouts and Washington had third and one with 2:38 to go. The lined up and then called a timeout.
“We actually lined up with a tight end on the wrong side so we had to get that fixed up,” said Gruden.
It’s week 11 and the tight end can’t line up on the right side of the formation on a critical play. Perhaps they should be beyond these issues by now?
Even with the tight end properly aligned, the play had no chance as Perine tried to go off the right side and he was hit for a one-yard loss. The clock wound down to the two-minute warning and Tress Way boomed a 54-yard punt that was fair caught at the Saints 13. The Redskins had to defend 87 yards of turf for 1:53. They couldn’t do it.
Brees again took on the role of the hot knife and the Redskins still were the butter. Four for four passing, each throw gaining 17 yards or more. The touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara and the two-point conversion tied the game at 31-31.
When asked what happened, linebacker and former Saint Junior Galette said that while he respects Brees and the Saints, this one was on the defense.
“In two minute, he’s one of the best I’ve seen but still we’ve got to bow down and tighten our defense up,” he said.
“They’re a really good team but I honestly feel that we beat ourselves today,” said Galette. “It’s a really good team, one of the better teams we’ve played all year but if you watch that game you know we beat ourselves.”
Safety D.J. Swearinger echoed Galette’s viewpoint.
“They came back and beat us fair and square,” he said. “But at the end of the day we didn’t do our job. We beat ourselves for sure. We for sure beat ourselves.”
In case there was any doubt about it, Swearinger then said that they beat themselves twice more in the next sentences.
The good part of the Saints drive was that it consumed just 48 seconds, leaving the Redskins with 1:05 to try to get a winning field goal. Cousins threw three passes to Jamison Crowder and all of a sudden the Redskins were on the New Orleans 34, close enough to at least attempt a game winning field goal.
But then it fell apart. With 31 seconds left, Cousins took a snap from behind center and immediately threw the ball out of bounds on the right side with no receiver nearby. The officials conferred and dropped a flag for intentional grounding.
The flag never should have been thrown because the rule says that the quarterback must be in imminent danger of getting sacked. Cousins was not. But the way the play went down it certainly gave referee Walt Coleman the opportunity to make a mistake and you never want to do that.
The explanations for the throw offered by the coach and quarterback were somewhat confusing and didn’t really line up. But for the record, here is the gist of what each of them said:
Gruden: “I was trying to get his [Cousins’] attention and hand signal a bubble screen out there. If we get it out there and get it out of bounds, we get another play called. Unfortunately, Jamison didn’t get it.”
Cousins: “I looked over to the sideline out of the corner of my eye and I just saw the coaches saying, ‘throw it’. They wanted potentially an audible, get to an actual pass play. I thought they were saying throw it to Jamison, in the general area of Jamison, there was an eligible in the area and there’s no penalty.”
There is little point into going into the minutia of what they said. There seems to have been some confusion in the loud Superdome and perhaps Gruden will clarify it in his Monday press conference.
Again, it should not have been grounding but you can’t give them a chance to make that mistake.
And the Redskins still had 18 seconds (after a 10-second runoff that perhaps should not have happened) to try to get back the 10 yards and maybe a few more to get a shot at a field goal. But he was sacked (the Saints’ first sack of the day) and he fumbled. Morgan Moses recovered but the clock ran out.
Although they had a 10-minute overtime, it felt like it was over and it soon was. The Redskins went three and out. Brees didn’t even have to drop back to pass as runs of 20 and 31 yards set up the field goal that applied the final gut punch.